With an executive order, Mayor Ed Murray will cut ties with the city’s 13 district councils to make way for a more racially and socioeconomically inclusive model for community engagement.
The 13 district councils that have represented Seattle’s neighborhoods in city government for nearly three decades will be replaced by a new model that Mayor Ed Murray hopes will be younger, with more renters and people of color.
Murray signed an executive order Wednesday that directed all city departments, led by the Department of Neighborhoods, to develop plans for the new approach.
“We have to find out how we reach people who can’t come at 7 p.m. to a neighborhood meeting in a community center or a church basement,” Murray said. “They’re not part of this process.”
In 2013, the city took stock of the people who now attend the meetings of the 13 councils. It found that the majority of participants are over 40, white and are homeowners. The city, in contrast, has a median age of 36, with 34 percent people of color and 52 percent renters. Six of the 13 councils reported zero attendance by people of color.
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Dick Burkhart, a member of the Southeast District Council, said he agrees that diversity is a problem in several of the councils, not including his. But he objects to the mayor’s move to cut ties with them.
“It seems to me that if you shut down the district councils, they would come back in some way because people will still meet,” he said.
Although they will no longer receive support from the city, the district councils can continue to exist, Murray said.
The people who participate in district councils include individual community members as well as representatives from nonprofits and businesses. Each council elects representatives to the City Neighborhood Council, which has acted as an advisory body to the mayor. With the executive order, the city’s ties to that council will be dissolved, too.
It isn’t yet clear how the city departments will engage with the community from now on.
“It would be premature to say what those plans will look like because that’s what the process is designed to do,” said Jeff Reading, communications director at the mayor’s office.
The Department of Neighborhoods will draft legislation for a new community- engagement model by Sept. 26. By January 2017, the mayor’s order says, the city will establish a Community Involvement Commission that will oversee engagement efforts. Reading said the commission will act as a facilitator of community engagement and succeed the City Neighborhood Council as an advisory body.
Murray added that he expects city departments to use digital tools to maximize outreach. By March 2017, he said, the Department of Neighborhoods and the city’s information-technology department will submit a digital engagement plan.
These plans may include social media strategies, interactive maps and surveys among other approaches, Reading said.
On Friday, the Department of Neighborhoods will release a report reviewing the effectiveness of the 13 district councils, but Murray chose not to wait for the findings to cut ties with the bodies.
“It was simply time to move on,” he said.
This story, originally published on July 13, has been corrected to make it clear that decisions about how to choose members of the Community Involvement Commission have not yet been made.